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Until January 9, 2017, Backpage contained an adult section containing different subcategories of various sex work professions (escorts, erotic masseuses, strippers, phone sex operators, etc.).
After accusations from the United States Senate of being directly involved with sex-trafficking and the sexual exploitation of minors, the company suspended its adult listings, describing the move as "the direct result of unconstitutional government censorship".
After a series of court cases and the arrest of the company's CEO and other officials, in early 2017 Backpage removed the adult services subsection from their website in the United States, though said adult services simply moved to both the dating and massage sections of the site.
Near the turn of the 21st century, Internet-based classified advertising, particularly the website Craigslist, was having a significant impact on the classified advertising business in newspapers nationwide.
There has been significant public controversy and discourse regarding the adult section of
Some companies including H&M, IKEA, and Barnes & Noble canceled ads for publications owned by Village Voice Media. The California arrest warrant alleged that 99% of Backpage’s revenue was directly attributable to prostitution-related ads, and many of the ads involved victims of sex trafficking, including children under the age of 18.
Over 230,000 people including 600 religious leaders, 51 attorneys general, 19 U. senators, over 50 non-governmental associations, musician Alicia Keys, and members of R. M., The Roots, and Alabama Shakes petitioned the website to remove sexual content. The State of Texas was also considering a money laundering charge pending its investigation.
In an amicus curiae brief, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says the efforts of Backpage are inadequate and their reporting lacked in several areas.
They say Backpage does not report all ads that have been flagged as being underage, does not report when someone tries to advertise children under 18 years of age, and does not respond to requests of parents to have ads of their trafficked children removed.
Liz Mc Dougall, an attorney serving as general counsel for Backpage.com, said that Backpage is an "ally in the fight against human trafficking." She said that the adult section of Backpage is closely monitored, and that shutting it down "would simply drive the trafficking underground." She said that websites like Backpage, that are able to monitor trafficking activity and report it to law enforcement, are key in the fight against human trafficking. have pointed out that the freedoms and potentially the entire fabric of the internet would be threatened if this type of free speech is prohibited on Backpage.